What 35 Days of Shutdown Accomplished: Nothing

They could have made the deal at this point: On December 12, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer meet with Donald Trump and Mike Pence in the Oval Office. (Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

On December 19 of last year, as reported here, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a resolution to keep the government funded and avoid a shutdown, while postponing decisions about “the wall” until later on. At the time there was every indication that Donald Trump’s administration had agreed to the deal. As a CNN story reported:

“Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, the current no. 2 highest-ranking Senate Republican, predicted on Wednesday that Trump would sign it. ‘He will sign a clean CR,’ Cornyn told CNN.”

But then the next day, December 20, after criticism from Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, various Fox News figures, and others that Trump was being “weak” and a “loser” by agreeing to the deal, Trump changed his mind. And the shutdown, with all its damage, would soon begin.


On January 25, Donald Trump agreed to the same deal he could have had five weeks earlier, without a shutdown. (For The Atlantic, David Graham explains that reality here; Russell Berman here; and Alex Wagner here.) From all the carnage of the past five weeks, he gained exactly nothing.

The hundreds of thousands of families under financial strain; the disruption of long-term scientific projects; the damage to the national parks  — these and  other consequences of the shutdown were all for … nothing.

By many accounts (e.g. this), Donald Trump did not understand enough about the mechanics of the government to recognize what a shutdown might do, or why the political fundamentals of his confrontation with the Democrats were skewed against him.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did understand all of that — and could have curtailed the damage any time in the past few weeks by allowing the Senate to vote on a “clean CR,” a measure to end the shutdown and defer debates on the wall. Since the beginning of the new congressional session this month, all signs have been that such a measure would pass the Senate (as Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, eloquently argued two weeks ago).

But McConnell refused all requests to let the Senate vote. As with Trump’s December 20 flip, from support of a compromise bill to dead-set opposition, his stand affected countless Americans. And was for nothing.